Weapons inspectors searching for Scud missiles flew U.N. helicopters Thursday for the first time since the Baghdad government backed down on its opposition to the use of foreign aircraft.
The 20-member team took off early in the morning from Baghdad's Rasheed military base, said Alastair Livingston, an official at U.N. Special Commission's office in Bahrain.U.N. inspectors said they needed their own helicopters to make unrestricted surveillance flights in remote areas and to stage surprise visits at sites suspected of holding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Earlier teams have been restricted to the Baghdad area by the lack of transportation.
The inspection teams work for the U.N. Special Commission, which is overseeing the elimination of Iraq's long-range missiles and nuclear, chemical and biological-weapon programs under terms of the gulf war cease-fire.
Saddam Hussein's government long opposed the U.N. helicopters, saying the inspectors should fly on Iraqi aircraft. But Baghdad gave in to demands by the U.N. Security Council last week after U.N. officials agreed to allow an Iraqi official to accompany each flight.
The German government provided three U.S.-made CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters to the commission. They flew in from Turkey on Wednesday.
In the next few days, the ballistics inspectors are to fly over western Iraq to search for fixed-site launchers used to fire Scud missiles into Israel during the gulf war.